Allen Pike 2014-08-17T12:21:31-04:00 http://www.allenpike.com/ Allen Pike http://www.allenpike.com/2014/being-bad-at-things Being bad at things 2014-08-17T06:00:00-04:00 Allen Pike http://www.allenpike.com/ <p>Today, I turned 30. Even at this advanced age, I recently realized something crucial: I&#8217;m not too old to learn new things.</p> <a href='http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/2011/09/24'><img style='max-width: 100%' src='http://www.allenpike.com/images/2014/lessons.png' style='width:220px' /></a> <p>As a kid, I was bad at being bad at things. I excelled at certain specific subjects and skills, which made everything else seem like a waste of time. I wasn&#8217;t a &#8220;natural&#8221; at music, art, or sports, so I set them aside. Malcolm Gladwell claims we need 10,000 hours to master something, and nobody&#8217;s got time for that. I didn&#8217;t even have the attention span to thoughtfully practice something for twenty minutes. Programming was fun, so I programmed. <a href='http://www.allenpike.com/2006/fantasytech-3-goto-fun/'>Oh, how I programmed</a>.</p> <p>By 20, I felt good at making software. I was still useless at sports, art, and music, but that didn&#8217;t concern me - others were well on their way to mastery of those things. I could never catch up to them, their natural talents having been honed since they were children, and I was now hopelessly behind. Luckily, I knew the importance of focus: spreading yourself too thinly just leads to doing many things poorly. I would instead do one thing well, and come to accept that as an adult, I am now too old to learn new things.</p> <p>In the meantime, I&#8217;ve learned various programming languages, tools, and a half dozen JavaScript frameworks. With this mindset, though, it&#8217;s always felt like work. I wasn&#8217;t &#8220;naturally&#8221; good at any of them, and the more different a new framework was from what I already knew, the more burdensome it felt to learn. I was happy enough to learn from examples and by doing, but sitting and reading pages and pages of docs felt like drudgery. Ten years in to having fun programming, I&#8217;d gotten good at learning by doing, but bad at learning intentionally. I just want to make great software exist. Can&#8217;t I just, like, type and have it be awesome?</p> <p>It seems I&#8217;m not the only programmer to <a href='http://www.marco.org/2014/07/11/developers-dystopian-future'>get stuck in this rut</a>. Programmers usually enjoy learning their first few tools, but if we&#8217;re not learning to learn, we can get stuck in our ways. Before long, we&#8217;re the crazy old author who still uses a typewriter, damn it. Even in my 20s, I already was falling into this mindset.</p> <h3 id='the_canadian_dream'>The Canadian Dream</h3> <p>Three years ago, I was having lunch with some of my friends from Nitobi. That day, <a href='http://www.twitter.com/stevesgill/'>Steve</a> was pitching an idea that was clearly crazy: he wanted to start a hockey team.</p> <p>Now, for your average group of Canadian dudes, starting a hockey team is a run of the mill thing. Hunt a moose, drink some syrup, start a hockey team. All in a day&#8217;s work. However, we were all programmers. Further, few of us had ever even played ice hockey. One of the proposed team members grew up in Algeria - which is very cool, but not the kind of cool that leads to ice rinks. The entire thing was crazy: we&#8217;re adults, and &#8220;everybody else&#8221; has been playing for years, if not decades.</p> <p>I rolled my eyes and issued a challenge. &#8220;I tell you what. If you actually start a hockey team comprised of programmers, I&#8217;ll join your supposed hockey team.&#8221;</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='http://www.allenpike.com/images/2014/timbits.jpg' style='width:250px' /> <p>Next thing you know, I&#8217;m learning how to skate. As an assistant captain of a hockey team.</p> <p>I&#8217;d never seriously played a team sport in my life, and so I was resigned to the idea that learning would be frustrating. Instead, it was damn fun. The low expectations I had for myself let me enjoy just being terrible, and building from there. As we all know, the only way to get good at something is to start out terrible and work hard, very hard, until one day you&#8217;re only kinda bad.</p> <h3 id='learning_new_tricks'>Learning new tricks</h3> <p>Over time, the skills I was learning in hockey transferred to other work I was doing. I got better at team communication, ignoring temporary discomfort, and spatial awareness. My general &#8220;stick-with-it-ness&#8221; improved, helping me grind through difficult tasks that needed to get done.</p> <p>Recently I happened to go through some of my old schoolwork, and I was surprised to see how little of my learning at a young age was natural talent, as I&#8217;d thought it was, and how much was just repetition and motivation. My natural talents, it seems, were mostly illusions created by having practiced something.</p> <a href='http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html'><img style='max-width: 100%' src='http://www.allenpike.com/images/2014/hyperbole-anything.png' style='width:250px' /></a> <p>With my newfound power of enjoying being bad at things, my hobbies have flourished. I jumped in to learning guitar, writing regularly, singing, and podcasting. While on the surface these hobbies seem like distractions, they&#8217;ve all had positive effects on my other work and hobbies. I&#8217;m finally learning how to practice.</p> <p>This week, inspired by the <a href='http://www.fullindiesummit.com/'>Full Indie Summit</a>, I started to learn how to draw. And man, I&#8217;m bad. I&#8217;m so bad. But unlike 20 year old Allen, 30 year old Allen can have fun anyway. At least, as long as I&#8217;m slowly getting better. Perhaps, after a few years of hard work, I&#8217;ll be a natural.</p> <p>So, today, I&#8217;ve stopped feeling too old to learn new things. Decades from now I may actually get too old. In the meantime, I&#8217;m going to go around being bad at things. Believe it or not, it&#8217;s a lot of fun.</p> http://www.allenpike.com/2014/six-years A lot can change in 6 years 2014-07-30T19:00:00-04:00 Allen Pike http://www.allenpike.com/ <img style='max-width: 100%' src='http://www.allenpike.com/images/2014/old-yahoo.jpg' style='width:250px' /> <p>The year was 1995. With little warning, the web burst into the homes of millions, starting a whole new era in the software industry. Developers flocked from inside and outside the tech industry to build web apps for many good reasons:</p> <ul> <li>Gold rush opportunities</li> <li>A way to reach new classes of customer</li> <li>Rapid growth</li> <li>Irrational exuberance about business models</li> </ul> <p>Six years later, these reasons were gone. By 2001, the gold rush was over, and the exuberance died. Some developers stuck it out, believing in the long term potential of the web. Other developers moved on to other platforms, or left the industry entirely. Those who remained struggled with free competitors and discoverability issues. Beloved products died, and we mourned. The businesses that survived focused on serving customers efficiently and sustainably.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='http://www.allenpike.com/images/2014/old-appstore.jpg' style='width:250px' /> <p>The year was 2008. With little warning, the App Store burst into the pockets of millions, starting a whole new era in the software industry. Developers flocked from inside and outside the tech industry to build iOS applications for many good reasons:</p> <ul> <li>Gold rush opportunities</li> <li>A way to reach new classes of customer</li> <li>Rapid growth</li> <li>Irrational exuberance about business models</li> </ul> <p>Six years later, these reasons were gone. By 2014, the gold rush was over, and the exuberance died. Some developers stuck it out, believing in the long term potential of iOS. Other developers moved on to other platforms, or left the industry entirely. Those who remained struggled with free competitors and discoverability issues. Beloved products died, and we mourned. The businesses that survived focused on serving customers efficiently and sustainably.</p> <h2 id='the_ebb_and_flow'>The ebb and flow</h2> <p>Over the last week, many indie iOS developers have been sharing <a href='http://www.marco.org/2014/07/28/app-rot'>the</a> <a href='http://blog.jaredsinclair.com/post/93118460565/a-candid-look-at-unreads-first-year'>stories</a> <a href='http://pablin.org/2013/06/06/the-ios-appstore-in-2013/'>of</a> <a href='http://michael.burford.net/2014/07/where-are-indie-ios-developers-you-ask.html'>their</a> <a href='http://txt.jazzychad.net/gist/19a05ad4e7ef77072b44'>struggles</a> trying to make a living on the App Store. It&#8217;s always been hard, but the common wisdom over the last year has seemed to settle into a common refrain. Paid up front apps, for normal consumer use, <a href='http://www.marco.org/2013/10/02/yep-paid-apps-are-dead'>are dead</a>. Making a living on the App Store is harder than you think.</p> <p>In many ways, the iOS app market is where the web was in 2001. The easy wins have been won, and a lot of developers have hangovers. Still, successful products will continue to surprise and delight us from those who stick with it.</p> <p>Our first three products at Steamclock were paid iOS apps. The two products we have in the lab are not. One is a web app, and one a Mac app, both on subscription models. We&#8217;ll be building software for iOS for a long time, but it&#8217;s time to experiment as well.</p> <p>In yesterdays&#8217;s episode of <a href='http://developingperspective.com/2014/07/30/192/'>Developing Perspective</a>, David Smith points out that now that the App Store is mature, it behaves just like any other market in the business world:</p> <blockquote> <p>We&#8217;re now just left with fundamental business competition. You need more than a gut idea to have a successful product, the market doesn&#8217;t really care about the process it took to create what you created, it just cares about the end result, as supply goes up prices come down, diversification of your product line is essential for stability, and the reality that most businesses fail.</p> </blockquote> <p>It&#8217;s hard, and it sucks. Faced with this, the <a href='http://randsinrepose.com/archives/stables-and-volatiles/'>Volatiles</a> will instead choose the next exciting challenge that may be the path to success. The Stables will choose to double down, learn, persevere, and take the hard path of <a href='http://inessential.com/2014/07/30/why_i_love_indies_and_you_do_too'>sticking with what they love</a>.</p> <p>And you know what? We&#8217;re damn lucky to have that choice.</p> http://www.allenpike.com/2014/a-company-made-of-people A company made of people 2014-06-30T19:00:00-04:00 Allen Pike http://www.allenpike.com/ <img style='max-width: 100%' src='http://www.allenpike.com/images/2014/apple-cube.jpg' style='width:250px' /> <p>The worst misconception I see about Apple, or around any large company for that matter, is that the company is monolithic. One homogeneous entity that acts in unison. This idea breeds misunderstanding.</p> <p>The news teaches us that companies are ethicless profit-seeking automata. They are granted corporate personhood, with <a href='http://jezebel.com/why-women-arent-people-but-corporations-are-1598061808'>the right to deny healthcare to their workers</a> but no obligation to make the world a better place. Most people think of corporations as a single soulless blob.</p> <p>No corporation has worked harder to seem monolithic than Apple. With a famously tight focus and legendary secrecy, the internal workings of the company are a mystery. &#8220;Apple&#8221; rejects your app, not some front-line app reviewer. &#8220;Apple&#8221; opaquely dupes your Radars, not a specific team&#8217;s junior Engineering Project Manager. For years, Apple&#8217;s showmanship and PR have bred the sense that they are more magical chocolate factory than cube farm.</p> <h2 id='producing_the_worlds_finest_sausage'>Producing the world&#8217;s finest sausage</h2> <p>Back when I worked there, I was surprised by many things. More than anything else, though, I was surprised that it is simply a company made of people.</p> <p>A company made of very bright people, of course. Very bright people working very hard. But still, people. Messy, wonderful, fallible people just trying to do their jobs. People who disagree with one another. People with families, and hobbies, and political opinions. People who say things that are not finely crafted PR messages.</p> <p>This may seem obvious when put into words, but all these details are so well hidden from view in Apple&#8217;s external persona that I was taken aback by it. Most of the executive staff didn&#8217;t speak publically. Even Steve Jobs himself reserved his spotlight for the product - politics and personal flair, not so much.</p> <p>Although <a href='http://randsinrepose.com/'>some employees</a> got away with writing under a pseudonym, most Apple folks reasonably considered media attention <a href='http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/apple-engineer-gray-powell-lost-iphone/story?id=10430224'>a bad thing</a> and did their best to stay under the radar.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='http://www.allenpike.com/images/2014/scott-erase.jpg' style='width:250px' /> <p>Today, the people, their personalities, and their values are starting to shine through. Beginning with the leadership &#8220;<a href='https://www.apple.com/pr/library/2012/10/29Apple-Announces-Changes-to-Increase-Collaboration-Across-Hardware-Software-Services.html'>changes to increase collaboration</a>,&#8221; through the departure of Katie Cotton as the head of PR, to the most open WWDC in memory, it&#8217;s become clear that this is intentional.</p> <p>WWDC this year was filled with things that developers have wanted for years, but most assumed Apple would never allow. We got open analytics data in iTunes Connect, more generous allowances for beta testing, and a slew of extensibility APIs throughout the OS. At the same time, the <a href='http://oleb.net/blog/2014/06/apple-lifted-beta-nda/'>lifting of the ridiculous WWDC NDA</a> dramatically improved discussion and collaboration within the community.</p> <p>Developers went wild. Brent Simmons marked it <a href='http://inessential.com/2014/06/06/early_thoughts_on_wwdc_2014'>the beginning of a new era</a>, Chock <a href='http://furbo.org/2014/06/03/confidence/'>chalked it up to confidence</a>, and Casey Liss <a href='http://www.caseyliss.com/2014/6/6/together'>relished the sense of cooperation</a>. All true.</p> <p>Still, there&#8217;s more to it.</p> <h3 id='the_people_shining_through'>The people shining through</h3> <p>Earlier this year, at Apple&#8217;s annual shareholder meeting, a representative of an anti-environment activist group asked Tim Cook to halt Apple&#8217;s environmental initiatives unless they could be proven profitable. <a href='http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/tim-cook-soundly-rejects-politics-of-the-ncppr-suggests-group-sell-apples-s'>Cook&#8217;s response</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don&#8217;t consider the bloody ROI.</p> </blockquote> <p>He suggested the group sell their Apple stock. I&#8217;m not sure what Katie Cotton thought of that, but it was great to see Tim&#8217;s personality and values laid out.</p> <p>More recently, Eddy Cue and Jimmy Iovine <a href='http://recode.net/2014/05/30/apples-jimmy-iovine-and-eddy-cue-explain-the-beats-deal-and-hint-at-the-future-video/'>did an interview for re/code</a>, Jony Ive has been giving more frequent and in depth <a href='http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/16/jonathan-ive-on-apples-design-process-and-product-philosophy/'>interviews</a>, Angela Arhents <a href='https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140623211315-269697626-starting-anew'>wrote a piece on LinkedIn</a> about her first month at Apple, and Phil Schiller has <a href='https://twitter.com/pschiller'>started tweeting regularly</a>, cartoon avatar and all.</p> <p>Of course, no discussion of Apple execs letting their hair down is complete without Craig Federighi. Craig&#8217;s WWDC performance was full of personality, but I paid special attention to a gesture he made off stage. He took the time, on what was surely one of the most exhausting days of his life, to let hordes of developers take selfies with their silver-haired hero.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='http://www.allenpike.com/images/2014/craig-triptych-wide.jpg' style='width:100%' /> <p>With the WWDC NDA lifted, other Apple employees, from <a href='https://twitter.com/clattner_llvm'>the creator of Swift</a> to various API maintainers, took to Twitter to gather feedback on all the goodies they&#8217;d dumped on developers. In the web community this would be expected behaviour. In the Apple community, it&#8217;s a delight.</p> <p>Of course, this is a shift, not a revolution. Apple will never get to the point where their culture tolerates, say, <a href='http://thenextweb.com/insider/2014/03/27/staff-mozilla-call-new-ceo-brendan-eich-step/'>employees publicly tweeting that their CEO should step down</a>. Indeed, as a public company with fierce competitors, they&#8217;re obligated to maintain decorum and secrecy around things that are materially sensitive.</p> <p>Still, around the things that aren&#8217;t core secrets - developer relations, employee personality, and standing up for their values - Apple is feeling more like a chorus of real people and less like a monolith.</p> <p>On Sunday, Tim Cook <a href='http://9to5mac.com/2014/06/29/tim-cook-and-apple-celebrate-applepride-in-san-francisco-today/'>led thousands of Apple employees in the San Francisco Pride Parade</a>. This is Tim&#8217;s Apple, and I like it a lot.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='http://www.allenpike.com/images/2014/apple-pride.jpg' style='width:100%' />